News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

February 4, 2008

Historian says Dana historic site has had copy of death photo

DANA — A local historian says a photograph of a post-mortem Ernie Pyle that has surfaced is nothing new.

Ray E. Boomhower, senior editor for the Indiana Historical Society’s Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, said during an interview Sunday that a copy of the photograph has been in the collection at the Indiana Historical Society for years.

Another copy is at the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site in Dana.

Boomhower, who also wrote the book, “The Soldier’s Friend: A Life of Ernie Pyle,” said, “I had known about the photo even before I did the book, because the folks in our library knew it was in our collection.”

The photo shows Pyle, in his Army fatigues, lying dead, just after he was struck in the temple by a .30 caliber bullet from a Japanese machine gun during World War II. It was April 18, 1945.

Historians who were unaware of the photo until just recently are calling it a “real treasure of American history.”

The photograph was taken by the Associated Press’ Alexander Roberts, who then withheld it “out of deference” to Pyle’s widow, according to the AP.

At some point, a small number of prints were made from Roberts’ negative, and kept as souvenirs by some veterans, according to the AP.

Boomhower said he had considered including the photo in his book, but then chose not to, because he “felt it was kind of ghoulish.”

A longtime Pyle scholar, Boomhower says the photo does not add much to the story of Pyle’s life.

“It’s his dead body, it’s not very graphic in nature … it just looks like he’s sleeping,” Boomhower said.

“There’s a photo I used of a chaplain standing by [Pyle’s] coffin, with soldiers standing by looking on, and I think that says a lot more about what he meant to the average GI and how they felt about him,” Boomhower added.

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